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Friday, July 16, 2021

National Library of New Zealand partners with internet pirates


The New Zealand Society of Authors Te Puni Kaituhi o Aotearoa (PEN NZ) Inc (NZSA) and the Publishers Association of New Zealand Te Rau o Tākupu (PANZ) are shocked that the National Library of New Zealand (NLNZ) has announced plans to hand over hundreds of thousands of books from its collection to the notorious Internet Archive. 

 The Internet Archive’s scanning and online distribution of books has been condemned internationally as piracy on a massive scale. This activity by the Archive is the subject of a major lawsuit by international publishers, representing authors from around the world, and supported by authors’ groups.

Our organisations represent thousands of authors and dozens of publishers from across Aotearoa New Zealand. In recent years leading authors from New Zealand, including Catherine Chidgley, Keri Hulme, Elizabeth Knox and Damien Wilkins, have had their books illegally distributed online for free by the Internet Archive, forcing publishers and authors to repeatedly spend time and money taking enforcement action. 

 But the piracy of treasured New Zealand works continues unabated. On the day of the National Library’s announcement, works by Janet Frame, Patricia Grace, Keri Hulme, Witi Ihimaera, Albert Wendt and many other leading authors were being illegally distributed by the Internet Archive. 

 ‘We are stunned the National Library would partner with internet pirates that damage New Zealand literature on a daily basis,’ says PANZ President Graeme Cosslett. ‘The Internet Archive’s repeated infringements of New Zealand works shows their true nature – no claim to made-up laws, fake protocols or sanctimonious ideals can obscure this – they are committed to taking work from Aotearoa’s authors and publishers. How can the National Library stand alongside internet pirates and not New Zealand’s own literary community?’

'The Internet Archive’s online distribution of copyright books is illegal,’ says NZSA Chief Executive Jenny Nagle, ‘American colleagues have described what the Internet Archive is doing as “no different than heaving a brick through a grocery store window and handing out the food – and then congratulating yourself for providing a public service.” 

'Now their made up ruse of "controlled digital lending" means they’re simply asking people to form an orderly line around the block before receiving stolen goods. Hearing our own National Librarian repeat this lawless rationale is frightening.’ 

 The National Library pleads that an ‘opt-out’ clause for rights holders of books given to the Internet Archive will address rightsholders’ concerns. 

Like the wider agreement, this mechanism has no standing in law, here or abroad. It appears to make claim to a presumed consent that simply does not exist, as shown by the scale of the current lawsuit from affected rightsholders. This partnership directly contravenes international copyright treaties to which New Zealand is a signatory. 

If the National Library follows through with this scheme it will jeopardise New Zealand’s global standing as a place where creative industries can flourish. ‘It amounts to the National Library exporting its problem – washing its hands of it – to become instead the problem of individual authors, publishers, family estates and other rights holders around the world,’ says Cosslett. ‘This is not how New Zealand typically behaves on the world stage, nor does it reflect our nation’s values as a responsible global actor.’ 

 Authors and publishers invest vast amounts of time, energy, and resource into working alongside New Zealand libraries, including the National Library, to provide readers with access to books. This scheme jeopardises our local literary ecosystem. 

‘Internet Archive piracy challenges the livelihoods of Kiwi authors and publishers, who work hard in tough market conditions, to bring Aotearoa the stories we treasure,’ says Nagle. ‘The Department of Internal Affairs (DIA) appears to think this scheme comes at no cost. But it brings heavy long-term costs, costs that fall squarely on local authors, publishers and the creative sector.’ 

We acknowledge that the National Library is under pressure to find a solution for these books. Placing them offshore with internet pirates is not the answer. On hearing, by chance, of this scheme last Friday we have sought urgent meetings with Minister Jan Tinetti but have been met with silence. We call on Minister Jan Tinetti and DIA Chief Executive Paul James to overturn this radical alliance with a pirate organisation. 

Authors and publishers will be reviewing all their current relationships with National Library in light of this total disregard for New Zealand books and creativity.  

Friday, July 9, 2021

"I have fallen out of love"...


... with the National Library of New Zealand, that is.

For too many years, since the National Library in Wellington, New Zealand, was taken over by the bureaucrats of the Internal Affairs department, there has been an increased raiding of the shelves.

This essay, written by eminent military historian, Chris Pugsley, elaborates the frustration that is felt by historian, writers, researchers, and readers.

 I have fallen out of love with the National Library of New Zealand.

Christopher Pugsley

I have a lifelong love affair with libraries and librarians. Growing up, I haunted my local library: Greymouth, the Carnegie Library in Thames, the brilliant Thames High School Library, and then the shock of Xavier College: a high school without a library. My home became the Canterbury Public Library and in my upper sixth year, I would clock into school at morning break so that I was seen to be seen. I then spent the rest of each school day in the public library, working my way through the classics: Scott’s Waverly Novels, Dickens, the Brontes, some of Trollope, Kipling, Stevenson, Twain, Shakespeare, Wordsworth, Tennyson, Arnold, Manley Hopkins, and Rilke. No real plan or purpose: just reading with delight.

Joining the New Zealand Army, the Bridges Library at the Royal Military College Duntroon was another delight. Overawed that there were 128 volumes of the History of the War of Rebellion: the official records of the American Civil War. Finding books gifted and signed by Florence Nightingale among the stacks. Then the Waiouru Camp Library, The Kippenberger Library at the Army Museum, The Staff College Library at Camberley, and through all my military career and after, the Central Defence Library in Wellington: now no more.

Heaven for 12 years was the library at RMA Sandhurst. I camped in the library for a week when I applied for a lectureship. I asked at the time what would the library do for me if I got the job. Andrew Orgill the Librarian replied, “We will get any book you want’ and they did. For each project, Andrew would do a printout of all their holdings on the particular topic, including books in print but not in the library, and books not in print, but available on the various booklists, and ask me to tick the ones I needed. It was if I had died and found myself in paradise.

When I left the Army to write fulltime, we chose Wellington because of three things: Archives New Zealand, The National Library of New Zealand, including the Alexander Turnbull, and the Defence Library. Thinking about it, I should also add the Wellington Library and its silver palm trees, but that grew with the delight of the easy accessibility to the books on the New Zealand floor and the ability to sit and work among them.

Fast forward to 2020: The National Library has locked away its books and transformed itself to the best café and meeting spot on Molesworth Street; Defence Library is no more but lives in boxes in Trentham and National Archives stutters along on a part time accessibility basis, while the Wellington Library exists in a series of pop-up libraries all over the city. Sad days indeed.

Now the National Library is full steam ahead, intent on de-accessioning 600,000 of its ‘Overseas’ Books’ collections. There is a positive blurb on this act of cultural vandalism by the National Librarian online but what does it mean? Well first let’s provide some context. Take a walk with me into the National Library as it is today. In 1988, when we first arrived in Wellington, one could walk straight ahead into the reading room on the ground floor where you were surrounded by books, and you could sit and read and call up what you needed if it was not on the shelves. All that has gone. Today the only books on display on the ground floor are in the shop, which is a mixture of arts and crafts, with a small selection of books for sale. Beyond that is the immensely popular Home Café which expands out into an equally popular meeting place. Straight ahead of the entrance on the far side of the foyer is the Treaty of Waitangi Exhibition. No treasures of the National Library on display but artefacts taken from their rightful home in Archives New Zealand. It’s clearly all a question of relative clout: an arrangement between the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the National Librarian with the principal archivist seemingly reduced to a lower-ranked functionary.

I remember a delighted National Archivist, Ray Grover, walking me round when they were first displayed in their tailormade home in Archives pointing out the range of documents that were on display that allowed one to see the Treaty in all its forms and context. The library displays them more like trophy stag heads in terms of status with less exciting documents, once on display, remaining at Archives. What does that tell us about a National Library that forsakes the treasures on its hidden bookshelves, to display something it does not own? A ground floor with no books – an entire space given over to coffee, meeting rooms, and public areas places to meet and have a chat. Recently the earthquake-forced closure of the Wellington Central Library has seen one of its pop-up-libraries intrude into this meeting space and remind us that this is indeed a library, even if the books you see are not its own.

Let’s go upstairs. This is the Alexander Turnbull Library. There are some small display cases and a limited selection of books. That’s it: everything else is locked away. Visit the National Library of New Zealand and see some of the Treaty documents, have a coffee, meet someone for a chat, and, due to the misfortune of an earthquake, you can look at and touch some books from another library – almost as many as the limited selection on display in the Alexander Turnbull upstairs.

It’s as if this National Library and its hierarchy does not like and are embarrassed by books? Space is clearly available. The building is home to Nga Tāonga Sound and Vision and other government agencies and to make even more room the National Librarian has commenced a programme to deaccession 600,000 books from the “Overseas’ Collections”. Read the National Library website and see the PR “reason why” but then go through the lists themselves. On 12 October the second tranche will be disposed of: some 70,000 books. See for yourself what is being de-accessioned.

All the classics: out. Shakespeare out, Cervantes out, English and European works in translation; out. Nehru, Marx, Mao Tse Tung, Primo Levi, Graham Greene, the Arctic, Asia, the Americas, et al. Out.

It is interesting when you decide to downsize: the first cuts are tentative and then one gets into the swing of it and then it’s swingeing cuts. Settle on a period or an author: so out goes Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury set. I thought how would someone see Mansfield and her work in context once all her contemporaries have had the chop? How would it work for our poets and writers both past and present? I noted that Judith Wright, the Australian poet’s works are out. I wonder what Hone Tuwhare would think of that? His correspondence with Judith is in the Turnbull. He admired her activism over Aboriginal lands rights.

The more I studied the list, the more I thought that these de-accessioning librarians clearly do not read. Why else would they work so assiduously to gather their papers and writings for the Turnbull while the National is chucking out their books? Books did not arrive at the National Library by chance. They were selected for a purpose and to give a context to our history, culture and our lives: a doorway to a much wider world. After all we are all migrants here: simply separated by the centuries.

All of the 19th Century imperial and colonial histories are getting the chop. I would have thought that these are very much both sides of us: “Colonial” being a popular word today. Perhaps the National Library was not on the distribution list about the introduction of teaching on New Zealand history in schools? Isn’t how we come to be here, part of that?

Being a military historian, I try and gain a context to my area of interest by reading all I can from those involved on both sides of the front line. Contemporary memoirs, novels and writings has always been part of that, before I drown in the official records and diaries. After all, all history is contemporary history.

Who can research New Zealand on the Western Front in First World War without reading Barbusse’s Under Fire, Jules Romain’strilogy on Verdun, Graves, Blunden, Sassoon, Frederic Manning’s The Middle Parts of Fortune, Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front, Junger’s Storm of Steel, which in the latest translation acknowledges Junger’s post-war correspondence with one of those he fought against at Rossignol Wood. He wrote on this in some detail in his Copse 125. His correspondent was Ormond Burton and both he and Junger pondered on how warfare had changed by 1918? Will we keep Burton’s ‘The Silent Division’ which after all was published by Angus and Robertson in Australia and discard Junger: along with all the rest? But then out goes the Australian Leon Gellert’s poetry on the Gallipoli campaign, with the line:

There’s a sound of gentle sobbing in the South.’

Masefield too is out but who else but we, was he writing about when he penned these lines?

They came from safety of their own free will
To lay their young men’s beauty, strong men’s powers
Under the hard roots of the foreign flowers
Having beheld the Narrows from the Hill.’

T.S. Eliot is out. I have his collected poems and remembered the dedication in his Prufrock and Other Observations. ‘For Jean Verdenal, 1889-1915 mort aux Dardanelles’. The last line of ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’ is the title of Ian Hamilton’s Till Human Voices Wake Us: a vernacular classic of the hell that conscientious objectors lived through in New Zealand during the Second World War. An American mourning a young Frenchman killed at the Dardanelles that he met while studying at the Sorbonne becomes an inspiration to a New Zealander obdurately standing for his beliefs a war later? Are we to pretend that we are not inextricably part of this history?

The Australian American British Canadian and European novelists, poets and playwrights, are out. Keith Douglas’s Alamein to ZemZem is out, along, I guess, with his poetry? Three times a year I walked cadets along the hedge in Normandy where he was killed, without mentioning his name but remembering his words. His tank was in support of the New Zealanders at Alamein and when wounded he ended up in a New Zealand Dressing Station. No doubt to distract him, a New Zealand doctor, while picking pieces of shrapnel out of Douglas’s flesh, muttered that: ‘A New Zealander is someone who wears braces, wears false teeth, and calls his best friend a bastard.’

My copy is much battered and originally came from the Cromwell Public Library. It is firmly stamped in red: ‘DISCARD’. It is a far better and more honest word than ‘De-accession.’ Why should our National Library DISCARD 600,000 books and what will be next to go in 10 or 20 years? Will we continue to shrink? We will, of course, have to change the definition of Librarian, from one who loves books to one who de-accession books, or better still, DISCARDs books.

The Turnbull has copies of Ellis Ashmead-Bartlett’s papers and diaries from his time at the Dardanelles and his trips to Australia and New Zealand, but the National Library are getting rid of his books. Perhaps they don’t talk to each other? The same is true for C.E.W Bean’s The Dreadnaught of the Darling where he explores the rural nature of the Australian character that form part of his extensive writings on the Anzac (in this case Australian) experience on the First World War. I guess this means the rest of his works are also on some future list.

One of the truisms of military teachings is the saying that there are no good or bad battalions only good or bad commanders. Everything flows down from the top. Parallel with this is the saying that the measure of your tenure of the organisation that you are responsible for, is not how you use it but how you leave it for your successor. As junior officers we used to joke about the ‘frontal lobotomy zone’ where you would see people you admired as leaders lose the plot when they got promoted to senior staff positions. The same is true for all professions. How should a National Librarian look back on their period in charge? “With the best of intentions, I discarded 600,000 books and deliberately saved space and money at the cost of closing the window for future generations of New Zealanders to the world of books and the amazing avenues that they open?”

Is that too harsh? What is happening now can never be undone. Going through the Australian collections on the list, I see Osmar White is out. Fielding-born, his parents went to Sydney when he was two. An official correspondent in the New Guinea Campaign, his too honest and critical writings captured in his classic Green Armour led to him losing favour with the Australian High Command. He finished the war reporting on the American forces in Europe which led to his other classic Conquerer’s Road. I have both: each required reading for these campaigns. But no room for New Zealand-born White? No room also for Douglas Stewart and his appreciation of Kenneth Slessor, A Man of Sydney? This must be just ignorance or has this Eltham-born New Zealander and author of Springtime in Taranaki, damned himself by becoming an expatriate and editing the Bulletin’s Red Page for 20 years?*

This is where distinctions on who is in and who is out really gets a little crazy? Have a look at the scruffy New Zealand soldier who stands in bronze on the Devonport and Masterton war memorials. The model is of Joe Lynch and was sculpted by his brother Frank. Born in Sydney, the family moved to New Zealand and lived in Ponsonby, where their father was a stonemason. Frank followed his father with a talent for sculpture and Joe was an exceptionally fine black and white artist. Both served in the New Zealand Expeditionary Force: Frank on Gallipoli and Joe on the Western Front. After the war both headed for Sydney where they were absorbed into a group of artists and writers which included the New Zealanders: George Finey, Unk White and Noel Cook. Joe Lynch was drowned one night after falling from a Sydney ferry on his way to a party at George Finey’s house. It was said that the beer bottles in his coat pockets weighed him down, but it led to one of Slessor’s finest poems Five Bells, as an elergy to Joe. I guess George Finey’s The Mangle Wheel is out as well. We have Slessor’s correspondence in the Turnbull but now we dump his and Stewart’s books from the National Library.

I see Eric Partridge is also out. This really is a puzzle: New Zealand-born and one of the finest lexicographers of the 20th Century. He served with the Australian Imperial Forces in the First World War and left a fascinating account of his war experience. Perhaps it was that service with Australians which disbarred him? I have my much thumbed and much foxed, cheap paper one-volume edition of Slang and Unconventional English. It is always a delight and educative to find that certain four-letter words can be traced back to Middle English and not used in writing since the 15th Century. But as we know, in this age of NETFLIX and Neon, these rules have been relaxed. The words feature in print and on screen and can appropriately be used in a multiple variety of phrases to express what the National Library is doing here.

I see that Ion E Idriess is out. I devoured his adventure tales as a boy: clearly not PC today. But one page in The Desert Column, niggled me to Gallipoli and niggles me still. (Ask the Te Papa and Weta Workshop staff on my ongoing insistence on more and more flies on the open tin of bully beef in the Private Dunn model in the Gallipoli exhibition). Let me quote from it:

‘…. Maggots are falling into the trench now. They are not the squashy yellow ones; they are the big brown hairy ones. They tumble out of the sun-dried cracks in the possy walls. The sun warms them I suppose. It is beastly. … We have just had “dinner.” My new mate was sick and couldn’t eat. I tried to and would have but for the flies. I had biscuits and a tin of jam. But immediately I opened the tin the flies rushed the jam. They buzzed like swarming bees. They swarmed that jam, all fighting among themselves I wrapped my overcoat over the tin and gouged out the flies, then spread the biscuit, held my hand over it, and drew the biscuit out of the coat. But a lot of flies flew into my mouth and beat about inside. Finally I threw the tin over the parapet. I nearly howled with rage. I feel so sulky. I could chew everything to pieces. Of all the bastards of places this is the greatest bastard in the world. And a dead man’s boot in the firing possy is dripping grease on my overcoat and the coat will stink forever.’

What we are doing with these 600,000 volumes ‘will stink forever.’ Australian or not – these are words that should be read by every New Zealander and anyone wherever who wants to understand the hell nations send their soldiers too and why war destroys everyone who serves, sooner or later so that families must live with that cost for generations to come.

I have always picked up copies of The Desert Column whenever I see them. His words, simply written in tight short sentences, carry universal truths as do all these discarded books in one way or another. How do we judge who we are in any age if we simply look at ourselves alone? On Gallipoli I looked at the “gutsful” men who held us together when war was breaking us apart. Some who come to mind: Malone an immigrant, Wallingford an Immigrant, Te Rangi Hīroa an immigrant of some generations and Warden, an Australian – all inextricably part of our story. A universality that the National Library would deny.

In 1980 I was the sole New Zealand student at the British Army Staff College in Camberley. Book packs were issued to the 180 students: almost all British and NATO official pamphlets. There were two exceptions: both from New Zealand. One was perhaps the only New Zealand pamphlet issued by the New Zealand Army in the 1950s. It was triggered by the American historian SLA Marshal’s study Men under Fire on the American infantry soldier in combat where he concluded that less than one in four fired his weapon. NZP.4 Infantry in Battle was initiated by Major-General Sir Howard Kippenberger, as Head of the War History Section, and was compiled and edited by Colonel (Later Lieutenant-General Sir) Leonard Thornton. It drew on the judgement of New Zealand veterans to argue against Marshal’s findings. The second was Kippenberger’s own account of those war years Infantry Brigadier. These two titles were not issued because I was attending. Indeed, the pamphlet was no longer issued in the New Zealand Army and had been long forgotten. These books were selected because the discerning staff of one of the most highly regarded command and staff training institutions in the world, believed they transcended national boundaries, with each having something important to say about the profession of arms and the command of men in battle.

These 660,000 volumes which the National Librarian has chosen to dispense with ( or as the Cromwell public librarian would stamp “DISCARD”) were selected at some point and some time to serve the same purpose to provide a context and give us an awareness of something important in the wider world that impacted on who we are and how we fit in. When I look at the lists it is seems that for so many of these volumes that importance remains. We as a nation will be the poorer for their loss.

I would have thought that one should visit our National Library to visibly delight in the treasures that are held there. To see and touch thousands of books on display and do what one used to be able to do when the books were downstairs. To sit among them, take them off the shelves and feel that they are there to be read and enjoyed. Surely these foreign ‘overseas’ volumes should be taken out and given another run. Accept that the ambitions for downstairs and the Library at large, should be more than an exceptionally good café and meeting place but most of all a library crammed with books to delight in. Send the Treaty documents home to where they belong. Bring out the treasures of the National Library and the Turnbull and put them in their place. Earn your keep as librarians by ceasing to be people who de-accession books and be inspired to make them available to read and delight in rediscovering how we fit into the wider world?

None of which of course will happen – I am tilting at windmills, but there again, in years to come, who will get the allusion? Cervantes is among the DISCARDs.

Christopher Pugsley
  • Since this was written, Osmar White’s books have been saved, although “Conqueror’s Road” does not appear on the National Library catalogue. “A Man of Sydney” is also saved. It should never have been necessary, however, for an article of this nature to have been written to call the Library’s attention to important works in this way. That ought to be their job. It is still unclear if other works mentioned will be saved.

Monday, May 31, 2021

Giving up in fine style


I love Bluff oysters, too, so have every sympathy for this fellow's last repast before giving himself up to the police.

        By Natasha Frost for the Guardian

For many, it would be a welcome getaway: a week’s retreat in a log cabin deep in the New Zealand wilderness, followed by a scenic helicopter ride, a platter of oysters and a bottle of Champagne.

For James Matthew Bryant, 32, a fugitive from the New Zealand authorities, the eight days he spent at a privately owned, open-access hunter’s hut in the remote Waianakarua Scenic Reserve constituted a literal getaway.

Since April, Mr. Bryant had been on the run on charges of wounding with reckless disregard, possession of a knife, three counts of harmful digital communications and failing to appear in court. But he ended his fugitive status in dramatic fashion on Thursday, when he chartered a helicopter to turn himself in to the police, making him something of a media sensation in New Zealand.

Mr. Bryant had been a fugitive for about three weeks wandering in the South Island before he appeared as a wanted criminal on an evening news crime show, “Police Ten 7.” Somehow he heard that an informant had told the police of his whereabouts, and that the show had described him as dangerous. He doubled down on his flight, walking for two days until he reached the hut in the forest. (The hut is free. Anyone can occupy it.) There, he passed his time doing yoga, he later told reporters, and considered his next move.

Finally, fearing a potential showdown with the police, and thinking of the possible repercussions for his young daughter, Mr. Bryant called Arthur Taylor, a former career criminal and an advocate for prisoners’ rights who is well-known to the New Zealand authorities. Mr. Bryant once helped him create a website.

The local news media reported that Mr. Bryant’s alleged crimes involved a violent argument between roommates that ended in cuts to a person’s head. Mr. Bryant faces up to five years if convicted of the charges. Mr. Taylor said by phone on Friday that he had been motivated to do right by the victims of Mr. Bryant’s crimes, who he said had been “quite terrified,” and who had spent a week away from home following the incident.

Mr. Taylor said he told the fugitive: “‘Look, mate, my best advice to you is give yourself up. You might go to jail for a few years, but it’s not the end of your life.’”

Then, Mr. Taylor recounted, “He called me back and said, ‘Arthur, I’ve chartered a bloody helicopter.’”

In a scene worthy of an action movie, that helicopter retrieved a rather hirsute Mr. Bryant from the forest on Thursday. “They circle overhead, and he comes running out of the bush,” Mr. Taylor said. “The chopper lands, picks James up, brings him back.”

The owners of the hut had not known they were harboring a fugitive. “Just because of the time of year, we don’t normally have many trampers coming through,” Steve Joyce, one of its owners, said by phone.

After the helicopter dropped Mr. Bryant off, he was driven to Mr. Taylor’s house in the city of Dunedin. There, Mr. Taylor said, the fugitive, who clearly appreciates the finer things in life, made quick work of about 30 Bluff oysters, a bottle of Moët & Chandon champagne and a little of Mr. Taylor’s Cognac before turning himself in to the authorities.

Mr. Taylor said he didn’t mind: “Having spent a bit of time in that prison, I know the kind of crap they feed them, so I was very sympathetic, shall we say, to his desire to have one last decent repast.”

Had Mr. Bryant not opted to get his own helicopter, and the police been forced to undergo the two days’ walk to extract him from the hut, events could have ended more nastily, Mr. Taylor added.

“They’d have been very angry police,” he said. “From having hiked all that time, they’d be armed to the teeth, anything could have happened. A very volatile situation.”

Speaking to reporters outside the Dunedin Central Police Station on Thursday, Mr. Bryant, wearing a blue surgical face mask, a Gucci T-shirt and Versace sunglasses, spoke highly of his time in “the middle of nowhere.”

“It was real good; I did a lot of yoga,” he said.

Then he stepped through the sliding doors and gave himself up to the authorities.

Monday, May 10, 2021

Rockets can't afford to land in Wellington


NewsHub reports that there were some hilarious reactions to the news that the bits from the Chinese space rocket happened to miss New Zealand.

As we all know, the out-of-control rocket zoomed back to earth, and there was some speculation about where the bits would land.  And, instead of expressing great relief that New Zealand was given a miss -- despite our world-shaking reputation right now -- commenters gave rein to the odd Kiwi sense of humor.

"Is it weird that I'm disappointed that #LongMarch5B didn't land closer to New Zealand?" one person asked on Twitter.

As others pointed out, it meant that no nosy reporters were given the chance to ask the stray bits what they thought of New Zealand, and how did they "feel" about the unscheduled crash.

"Rockets can't afford to land in Wellington," another remarked.

Though another did meditate that it would have been very disappointing if his house was demolished before he had had finished the cheesecake in the fridge.

"It would be really inconvenient for my house to be hit by a satellite on a Sunday when the metal recyclers are closed," another wrote.

Remnants of China's biggest rocket landed in the Indian Ocean on Sunday, with the bulk of its components destroyed upon re-entry into the Earth's atmosphere, according to Chinese state media, ending days of speculation over where the debris would hit.

Parts of the Long March 5B re-entered the atmosphere at 10:24 am Beijing time (2:24pm NZT) and landed at a location with the coordinates of longitude 72.47 degrees east and latitude 2.65 degrees north, Chinese state media cited the China Manned Space Engineering Office as saying.

The coordinates put the point of impact in the ocean, west of the Maldives archipelago.

Most of the debris was burnt up in the atmosphere, the China Manned Space Engineering Office said.

Sunday, May 2, 2021

Seafaring superstitions


Sometime in the 19th century, the Royal Navy attempted to finally dispel the old superstition among sailors that beginning a voyage on a Friday was certain to bring bad luck. To demonstrate the falseness of this belief, they decided to commission a ship named HMS Friday. Her keel was laid on a Friday, she was launched on a Friday, and she set sail on her maiden voyage in Friday the 13th, under the command of a Captain James Friday. She was never seen or heard from again.

Don't bother to look this up.  It's false, but a good story all the same, and a good illustration of the superstitious natures of seafarers.

It reminds me of a Wiki Coffin short story that was published by the prestigious Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, in which he was able to break the alibi of a captain who claimed that he could not have committed a murder, because he set sail that day. That day was a Friday, and Wiki knew that the skipper was constitutionally unable to sail on that day of the week.

Italians have it even worse.  Di venere né di marte ci si sposa né si partethey say, meaning do not sail on a Tuesday, either.  

This may be because of their Roman background.  An ancient Roman skipper got very upset if you sneezed, swore or danced on board of his ship.  How he punished a poor sailor for that incontinent sneeze is unknown, but the ancient Greeks launched their ships over a row of bound slaves, which might be an indication.

Mind you, the Vikings were no better.

As for contrary winds, the French sailors believed that it was because someone on board had not paid his whore. Had paid with the topsail, as they used to say. Well, as in all things in this world, it eventually comes down to sex.

A superstition that Wiki Coffin, that seafaring Maori detective, knew well was that hatch covers should never be left upside down.  The logic escapes me, but it was a widespread belief.

I was once informed by a seaman that it was bad luck to carry bananas. So how do bananas get exported? By parachute?  And the French did not like umbrellas brought on board, and again the reason is unknown. 

Animals had a bigger part to play in seafaring myth and legend. Many cultures painted (and still paint) eyes at the bows, so the vessel can "see" its way.  There are lots of landbound superstitions about cats, particularly black ones.  Sailors, as contrary as ever, thought black cats were lucky, and made great efforts to get one on board. 

Dogs, particularly Jack Russells, were also popular. According to a seafaring woman's journal I read once, in New England Jack Russells were deliberately bred to have a patch over one eye, to give the right piratical appearance.  But dogs were carried for their rat-catching skills, not because they were lucky.

And women. This one comes up all the time.  Were women unlucky on board ship?  Well, Horatio Nelson carried various "dollies" on board, including, most famously, Lady Hamilton. Did "the sainted Emma" bring him bad luck? He seemed to do pretty well until he was shot. And it should be borne in mind that busty women were featured in thousands of ship figureheads, many of them naked.

Seriously, this thing about women is a fishing superstition, harking back to the old fleets in the Shetlands, and it was applied to redhaired women.  If a redhead even crossed the fishermen's path as they were carrying their nets to the boats, the expedition was given up, as doomed.  Or so I was told.

So were there redheaded figureheads on any ships? Who knows?

Finally, if you ever get on a cruise ship again, don't cut your nails or your hair in fine weather.  It is guaranteed to turn the weather bad. 

Thursday, April 15, 2021

Snake lurks in lettuce


I have a rabid fear of snakes (New Zealand does not have any), but I do buy a lot of cos lettuce (what Americans call 'Romaine'). New Zealand also imports a lot of vegetables and fruit from Australia, which I suppose is a two-way trade.  

So, does our cos lettuce, the kind where you get two in a plastic bag, come from Australia?

According to the Guardian, a fellow fan of cos lettuce, who happens to live in Australia, bought a bag of two lettuce heads in an Aldi store.  Then he put his shopping in his backpack, and cycled home. And apparently it wasn't even a smooth ride.

Then, as he and his partner were unpacking their groceries at home, out peeped this little snake.

One really has to admire the coolness and savoir faire of Australians.  Alexander White said that he only realized that it was a little snake (and not a big worm) when it kept on flickering its little tongue.  So he phoned the snake hotline, and was told it was probably a baby eastern brown, one of the most venomous snakes imaginable.

Well, I would have freaked out.  He did admit that he would have been more comfortable with a worm, but still thought it was cute.  He and his partner took many photos, and shared video chats with it with their children, who missed the big treat because they were away on school holidays.

Then the snake hotline got back to them, and informed them that it was a juvenile pale-headed snake, which was "medically significant."

Alexander thought that perhaps this meant it produced something useful for medicines, or something like that, but no, it apparently meant that if the snake bit him, he was to get to the hospital as soon as humanly possible.  And it was a surprise that it hadn't had a go, because pale-headed snakes are nervous by nature, and likely to strike out if agitated.

This must have been an unnaturally placid little snake.  After poking its front end out and having a look around, it retreated back into the lettuce and went to sleep.

So the couple put the lettuce bag in a tupperware container, leaving a little gap for air, so the snake wouldn't suffocate, and then checked the rest of their groceries, which were, thankfully, reptile-free.

Eventually, rather late at night, a snake expert turned up to take over the snake.  The delay, apparently, was because the snake people had been checking with the Aldi store to find out where the lettuce came from.  They wanted to take the snake back home, you see.  It turned out to be a town I have never heard of, called Toowoombah.  So off the snake went in a heated container -- and the couple washed the lettuce and ate it.

They have stronger stomachs than I have, that is for sure. 

Friday, April 2, 2021

Wellington's "sealion" ship ordered to sail away


From Radio NZ

She has been a feature of Wellington's downtown waterfront for many years.  Eighteen, to be precise.

She has a lot of history, too.  Originally a World War II construction, built in Adelaide and intended as a supply ship, her job description changed when the war finished before she was launched.  And so she became a mine sweeper.  And then a squid boat.  And then a house boat.

Currently, four people are renting the house boat, living within walking distance of most of the capital's attractions, including high-end shopping.  They have to live with the constant sound of pumps, as she is taking on water, but they have fun presenting her as an arts venue.

"We've had a number of one-off gigs out here, where we've just had a band set up here and the audience on the wharf, with 50, 80, 100 people coming down and engaging with their music which is great," said one of the boat's occupants, Simon Van Der Zeyden
Residents of the boat Simon Van Der Zeyden (left) and Dylan Pyle.

Residents of the boat Simon Van Der Zeyden (left) and Dylan Pyle. Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

"It's a beautiful open-air DIY gig opportunity that we've been thoroughly enjoying." 

Van Der Zeyden is one of four of the boat's occupants, who organise the boat as an arts space, organising film nights, games nights and live music. 

But all that is now under threat.

The boat is taking on water. While four pumps are being used to ensure it doesn't sink, the boat is classified as "non-seaworthy". 

That's why the City Council - who are taking over the mooring contracts on the Wharf - has decided not to offer one to the Sealion

Centreport are planning on tugging the boat to Glasgow Wharf by next week. 

Van Der Zeyden and co-housemate, Dylan Pyle, have started a petition, which so far has over 850 signatures.

"What we're looking for with the petition is an engagement of discussion is brought upon us, where we can lock in a feasible timeline that allows everyone to have a sense of satisfaction and safety," said Van Der Zeyden. 

"Instead the decision has just been sprung upon us." 


Meanwhile, the owner Selwyn Findley - who lives in Nelson - said he was loving the boat's current use.

"It struck a chord with me," he said.

"When the old owner said there's people onboard, I thought that's kind of good, and it's being used for a creative space. 

"I've been to concerts on board, and it's like a nice little intimate club down below, and it just suits it." 

Findley has only owned the boat since the new year, after it was sold by a fellow Nelson man. 

While his long-term plan was to do it up, then take it across the Cook Strait to enjoy in the Marlborough Sounds, he was in no rush. 

"When they first sent the letter to me, I was sort of, I guess, stunned a bit for a couple of days. 

"I just thought it was a shame. There's always going to be something that comes along, but it's just disrupted things, and put pressure. Financially it'll be hard.

"It's just involved a whole rethink." 

Inside The Sealion.

Inside The Sealion. Photo: RNZ / Sam Rillstone

Council spokesperson, Richard MacLean, said the boat isn't fit to stay put. 

"I'm no nautical expert but the thing is, Queen's Wharf is not there to be a permanent home for a vessel that clearly can't get around the harbour." 

He was unsure of the inhabitants' description of the boat as an arts and community space. 

"We're puzzled by that, we're a bit taken aback. We tend to think that people are overstating the importance of the Sealion in Wellington's community sector really." 

But the boat did feature an evening DJ every night as part of the Council-funded events programme "What If the City Was a Theatre?" 

And they also had plans to take part in June's Jazz Festival... but with the boat now moving on, those plans are sinking fast.

Sunday, January 17, 2021

Tim Severin, seaman, adventurer, author


I was saddened to learn that Tim Severin, a truly remarkable man who was a living inspiration, passed away last month.

The Irish Times has a feature on his life, focused (of course) on his first big hit, The Brendan Voyage. 

Tim was born in Assam, India, the son of an English tea planter -- that planter being an employee, not the owner of the plantation, as his son was always anxious to point out.  As was usual in those days, Tim was sent to boarding school in England at the age of seven.  One cannot help but wonder how his mother felt to wave goodbye to such a small boy, but it is easy to imagine how tough it must have been for the boy himself, English boarding schools being notorious.  Was he bullied?  Probably.  There would have been an emphasis on toughness and survival instincts, which would have served him very well in the strange adventures ahead.

His first was as an undergraduate of an Oxford college, when he followed in the wake of Marco Polo -- on a motorbike.  The next was to follow in the wake of the Spanish Conquistadors, down the Mississippi, this time in a boat.

His big inspiration evolved in 1976, when he decided to try and prove that St. Brendan could have sailed from Ireland to Newfoundland in a leather boat.  As always, his research was intense -- he intended to recreate the voyage as exactly as possible.  So off he and a small crew sailed, bailing madly all the way.  And on June 26, 1977, they made port in Newfoundland, proving that St. Brendan could have definitely done it, 900 years before Columbus.

The books that gripped my imagination were The Sindbad Voyage and The Spice Islands Voyage, which can read with Alan Villiers' Sons of Sinbad, as a perfect entry into the craft and seamanship of the Far East.  Ever since, I have been photographing prahu and pinisi (and writing about them, too, in Eleanor's Odyssey and the Wiki Coffin mystery stories), and Ron painted and drew them.

The books poured out of Tim Severin -- more tracings of ancient voyages, novels about Vikings.  I remember him for his kindness, his helpfulness, and generosity to someone faraway who was seeking answers to the same sort of questions.  His eyes were those of a navigator or a mountaineer, always seeking a new horizon.  He will be greatly missed.

Monday, January 4, 2021

Are blogs still relevant?


Having just come back from 8 days in the South Island of New Zealand-Aotearoa, I thought about blogging ...  

Normally, I have lots to say about what I have seen and experienced, but is that suitable any more?

News about Covid dominate the world, so that carefree jaunts seem both irrelevant and inappropriate.

It is worth noting, however, that people are turning to books more than ever, and books about leadership failures and successes have more personal impact.

I guess that is why I came back to find that a host of reviews of my book about castaways, desolate islands, and leadership, ISLAND OF THE LOST had materialized while I was away.

And here is a little sampling. 

From Canada

Reviewed in Canada on January 1, 2021
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I didn't buy this book expecting to learn anything more than about shipwrecks and survival, but there are so many other intriguing pieces to it, like the sub-antarctic sealing industry, that there is no question that I will be expanding my reading to learn more about this time period.

The book's synopsis is a bit misleading; yes, there were two shipwrecks on the island that overlapped much of the same time period, but the focus is on the wreck of the Grafton and its small crew. There are also very serious environmental and seasonal factors (timing) that contributed to the shipwrecks survivors; differences in leadership played a part of how well each group succeeded, but was not the only defining factor in my opinion. As well, and something that the pulled the book together for me, each wreck had at least one individual who had a level of resourcefulness that contributed greatly to each groups survival. The forge building or the coracle building as examples!

The author's ability to meld two separate incidents and her writing style that is highly engaging and to the point, made for a relatively quick read and I look forward to reading more of her work on naval history.
Highly recommend this book if this topic or region of the world is of interest. However, would caution that there is a great deal of emphasis on killing seals, especially pups, as a main food source and this may be a big turn off to some readers. As the author notes in the afterword, one group of survivors were mentally prepared to kill seals. This was the one area of the book that I was not mentally prepared for myself!

From the United States

Reviewed in the United States on January 1, 2021
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Reviewed in the United States on December 30, 2020
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Reviewed in the United States on December 28, 2020
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Reviewed in the United States on December 27, 2020
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Reviewed in the United States on December 26, 2020
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More about the trip -- and the old steamboat Earnslaw later